OCEAN CITY – The proposal to allow horseback riding on the beach is moving forward, as the Mayor and City Council voted to allow it beginning in November.
The concept of allowing horseback riding on the beach was originally brought up by Councilman Brent Ashley back in October as a revenue booster in the off season. Since then, the idea has been brought back to the council on several occasions but this week officials sat down to make a decision.
Examples of ordinances were taking from neighboring resorts who currently allow horseback riding on the beach, including Wildwood, N.J., Brigantine N.J. and Assateague Island National Seashore. Comments were also gathered from a variety of Ocean City departments, such as public works, recreation and parks and the police department, to survey the pros and cons.
According to City Solicitor Guy Ayres, a detailed ordinance would have to be drafted to allow horseback riding on the beach in Ocean City.
“It appears there is some advantage to doing this,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “On a personal note, I don’t see it being a big economic development tool. I see it as something as an added value that some people will take advantage of.”
Meehan added that the positive comments provided by the different entities of the city seem to outweigh the negatives.
Ashley felt Ocean City taking direction from the neighboring resorts would be a solid first step. He set the motion to allow horseback riding on the beach from Nov. 1 through March 30, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I think it is important that we set the fee,” Ashley added. “I would be inclined to go to the lower $50 end to see if we can get the program started and generate some interest.”
Brigantine N.J. requires a rider to obtain a permit and the cost is $100, purchased through the city clerk. Wildwood N.J. is charging $50 per rider and each rider is required to complete an application and sign a release of liability waiver. There is no permit required for Assateague Island, which is inhabited by wild horses.
Further discussion resulted in the council coming to a consensus on allowing horseback riding to be done 27th Street south or up to the end of the Boardwalk, and the Inlet would provide parking for the trailers where horses would be unloaded.
There was a variance of opinion on whether the town should start off with a business to offer the service or just allow for privately owned horses.
“Now we just want to keep it to private owners, give it a try and see if it works out and how much interest we can get,” Ashley said.
Councilman Lloyd Martin disagreed. He thought a business could be held more accountable versus having a group of individually owned horses on the beach.
“It is something that I do on vacation, going horseback riding on the beach, and I really enjoy that but I feel like when you open it up and you have 50 people on the beach it’s like whose horse did what, who’s cleaning up what, all I have been hearing from people is I don’t want to see that crap on my beach,” he said.
Council President Jim Hall said he is hoping for a vendor to come forward to offer the service.
Tourism Director Deb Turk responded that since the concept has gone public she has received input from the horseback riding industry.
“There is a great interest out there for them to market this product to people who ride their horses and for people who take lessons,” she said. “In terms of a private business, there would be some accountability.”
On the subject of “cleaning up after the horses”, Meehan pointed out that a fine should be put in place for not picking up after your horse and it could go along the regulations that the town already has in place for not cleaning up after pets on the beach.
“They ride on the hard sand and the tide washes it out, it is organic,” Ashley said. “This is done all over the world. This isn’t a new concept, so I don’t see the big problem.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas furthered that horse manure differs from dog excrement.
“I just want to remind the public that dog is made from human food so that carries disease but horse manure is hay and oats so it is organic,” she said.
Police Captain Kevin Kirstein informed the council of an additional concern from the police department and that is insuring that those who receive permits to ride on the beach show documentation their horse has received a Coggins test, which insures an animal is not harboring Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) antibodies in its blood stream.
“A negative Coggins test proves that your horse is safe to be around other healthy horses,” Kirstein said.
Before the vote was taken, Councilwoman Mary Knight urged the public to provide input as the law to allow horseback riding on the beach will return in first and second readings before it is finalized.
“Please, we need public input on this and not just what we think is good,” she said.
The council voted 6-1, with Martin opposed, to allow horseback riding on the beach Nov. 1 through March 6 from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a $50 permit for the winter season.
An ordinance will be presented at Monday night’s legislative session outlining the specifics of the proposal.
“Giddy up,” Joe Hall concluded.